Los Angeles—Tom Brady forged a reputation as the greatest quarterback in NFL history in a career spanning 23 seasons that produced a host of records that may never be beaten.
The 45-year-old NFL icon said Wednesday he was “retiring for good” this time after reversing his decision to leave the game a year ago and playing a final season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Brady won seven Super Bowls, five Super Bowl Most Valuable Player awards and three NFL MVP awards.
He also heads the all-time passing rankings, with 89,214 yards, nearly 9,000 yards clear of his nearest rival, the now retired Drew Brees.
Brady’s celebrity surpassed the world of sports — for 13 years he was married to Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen. The couple, who have two children, announced in November they were divorcing. Brady has another child from a previous relationship.
His longevity is all the more remarkable given the relatively short average career length of an NFL quarterback—around 4.4 years according to a 2019 study.
By the time he led the Bucs to an improbable victory in the Super Bowl two years ago, Brady had long since earned the right to be regarded as the greatest quarterback the NFL has seen.
His seventh Super Bowl win catapulted him into the pantheon of North American sporting greats, alongside the likes of Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Tiger Woods, Serena Williams and Wayne Gretzky.
The plot points of Brady’s career have become the stuff of NFL folklore.
He entered the NFL to little fanfare, chosen by the New England Patriots with the 199th pick in the sixth round of the 2000 draft.
Upon arrival in New England, he was ranked way down the Patriots’ quarterback pecking order, a gangly freshman with everything to prove.
Yet Brady soon showed the relentless work ethic and competitive spirit that would become the hallmarks of his career.
Coolness under pressure
Patriots officials would get calls from puzzled security staff in the dead of night to inform them that Brady had arrived at the team’s training facility to work out alone.
When an injury to Drew Bledsoe in September 2001 saw Brady elevated into the starter’s jersey, he seized his chance.
He kept his place for the remainder of the season and led the Patriots to a first ever Super Bowl in February 2002. AFP
That win marked the start of a two-decade reign in which Brady and coach Bill Belichick’s Patriots emerged as the dominant force in the NFL, encompassing eight more trips to the Super Bowl, five of them victorious.
While the roster on those championship-winning teams evolved over time, the one unchanging element was Brady, who year after year, season after season would confound predictions that his career was in decline.
“Guys come, guys go. Everything changes. Except one thing – Tom,” is how former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann put it.
There were disappointments and controversies along the way. In 2007, Brady and the Patriots just missed out on becoming only the second team to complete a perfect championship season when they lost the Super Bowl to the Giants.
In 2015, Brady was given a four-game suspension by the NFL over allegedly tampering with the pressure of balls used in a 45-7 AFC Championship win over the Indianapolis Colts.
Typically, Brady responded with another Super Bowl win. In the 2016-2017 season, he orchestrated the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, leading the Patriots back from a 28-3 deficit for a 34-28 overtime win.
That coolness under pressure was another Brady calling card.
Another Super Bowl appearance followed in 2018, when he finished with 505 passing yards in a losing effort to the Philadelphia Eagles.
His final Super Bowl win with the Patriots came in 2019, a dour 13-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams in Atlanta.
It made him the oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl.
That for many seemed like a perfect opportunity for Brady to ride off into the sunset. Instead, he remained in New England for the 2019 season and struggled.
Then in 2020, he shocked the NFL by announcing his decision to leave the Patriots and join the Buccaneers.
It seemed like a move loaded with potential pitfalls — the Bucs had not made the playoffs for over a decade and the coronavirus pandemic limited Brady’s ability to integrate with his new team-mates.
But he turned them into Super Bowl champions, becoming the oldest winner of the sport’s ultimate prize, at 43 years and 188 days.
“He brought a winning mentality to a really talented team that didn’t know how to win,” was how then-Bucs coach Bruce Arians described it.
While the seventh Super Bowl win brought a fresh avalanche of accolades, Brady himself has always resisted being drawn into discussions over “personal legacy.”
“Sporting success for me has never been about passing yards or touchdowns or Super Bowls,” he said.
“It was always about trying to maximize my potential. Being the best I could be.”